September 2019 – Suffrage

RCHS Facebook Posts from September 2019 – Women’s Suffrage in Ramsey County

Explore history with these snippets from past Facebook posts from the RCHS page.

Posts, event announcements, etc. have been edited for clarity and relevance.

The women of early 20th century Saint Paul and Ramsey County were instrumental in both promoting education and advocating for women’s suffrage. In celebration of September 8th, 1919, when Minnesota became the 15th state to sign onto the 19th Amendment allowing women the vote, RCHS will be highlighting some of the women who were involved in the women’s suffrage movement. Many of these women also promoted education and assisted our state’s children and youth to become leaders, rise out of poverty and become informed citizens.

Sept. 8th, 2019 was the 100th Anniversary of Minnesota’s Ratification of the 19th Amendment which gave women the ability to vote. The occasion was marked with a special ceremony at the State Capitol Rotunda, led by Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon and filled with activities that honored this important anniversary and the women who made it possible. The day was a reflection on the challenges that faced women and all people of color even after passage of the 19th Amendment, and how we need to continue to work together to fulfill the promise of an inclusive democracy.

Mary Coulter was the architect of many of the iconic buildings at the Grand Canyon and an influential teacher for many years, herself graduating from St. Paul High School (later Central High School) when she was only 14. After advanced training in California, and teaching in Wisconsin, Mary returned to St. Paul and began teaching at the Manual Training School (later Mechanic Arts High School) in November of 1892. Mary was instrumental in lecturing, attending conventions, and developing student exhibitions, including one for the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904. Mary Coulter was paid $50 per month, starting in 1892 when she first started teaching at the school. Find more about Mary Coulter @
Image: Mary Coulter, and the Manual Training School (the building on the right), which was housed in an annex to St. Paul High School.

Nellie Francis, the wife of attorney and diplomat William T. Francis, graduated from Central High School in 1891. A gifted singer, director and musician, Nellie advocated for African-American rights and culture from her early years, including in her graduation speech. She may have been the first African-American from Minnesota to meet a President, meeting President Taft in the White House in April of 1909. Nellie was a delegate to the annual meetings of the Minnesota State Suffrage Association in 1917 and 1918, and after women got the vote in 1920, she spent time teaching black women how to vote. Read more about this influential woman @
Image: Nellie Francis, photo taken during her work with the suffrage movement, date unknown.

Sarah Tarleton Colvin was one of Minnesota’s most active political activists and suffragette from 1915 through the 1940s. She was also a nurse, and advocated for nursing education. Dissatisfied with her family’s traditional views of women as wives and mothers, Sarah was one of 22 in the first organized nurses’ training class for women at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore in December 1890. She served as an officer of the American Nurses Association, promoted nursing training, and in 1915 joined the Congressional Union, later known as the National Women’s Party.
Image: Sarah Tarleton Colvin, 1948

Sarah Tarleton Colvin and her husband, Alexander, a prominent St. Paul surgeon, built their home in 1909 and it still stands in St. Paul’s Highland neighborhood to this day. In fact, Colvin Avenue in Highland Park was named in his honor in 1951. Throughout the days of Sarah’s spirited activism and societal contributions, she was arrested twice. Once was for protesting for women’s suffrage, Sarah was also arrested for burning President Woodrow Wilson in effigy in front of the White House. More on Sarah Tarleton Colvin @
Image: The Colvin’s house, photo from 1990.

Raised by an abolitionist family, Emily Gilman Noyes was involved in social activism and public service, and was also brought up in the traditions of scholarship and education (one brother founded Radcliffe College, and another became the director of the Boston Art Museum). Emily Noyes was one of the leaders of the women’s suffrage movement in Ramsey County – she founded the Women’s Welfare League in 1912, she was Vice President of the Women’s Suffrage Association, she addressed the State Senate in 1915, and served on other suffrage committees. After passage of the Amendment, Mrs. Noyes was elected honorary President of the Ramsey County League of Women Voters and also received national recognition for her work.

Emily Noyes’ influence extended not only publicly, but personally. In this photo, she is on the right within an intimate St. Paul women’s discussion group, and she also greatly influenced her family. Her nephew Robbins Gilman and his wife, Catheryne Cooke Gilman, became close to Emily. Catheryne, a professional social worker, was supported and inspired by Emily, and was deeply committed to suffrage, women’s rights, and social improvement. Catheryne eventually moved into an influential role on the Minnesota Child Welfare Commission, and she founded and organized the Women’s Co-operative Alliance in Minneapolis. For more on Emily Gilman Noyes and her family, see Rhoda Gilman’s article in Ramsey County History magazine.

Harriet Bishop is perhaps one of the most famous female historical figures in Minnesota. Harriet Bishop officially arrived in Saint Paul on July 16th, 1847. Her work in education is well known, as she was one of the first to open a school in Saint Paul, a 10 x 12-foot cabin which had formerly been a blacksmith’s shop at what is now Kellogg & St. Peter streets. She also was a temperance worker, a land agent for settlers wanting to move to Minnesota, founder of an effort to assist the needy (the Ladies Christian Union, later the Protestant Home and now Wilder Foundation East), and an author. But, Harriet was also involved in the women’s Suffrage Movement in Minnesota as one of its founders in 1881.


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